Remember when you were a child and unexpected gifts were the best surprise? Anything would have worked; candy, money, but stuffed animals were always cherished items to love and cuddle. Now think about a child dealing with HIV/AIDS or children in hospitals and shelters who are in need of items to remind them of their age around the holidays. Think how much a teddy bear would mean to them. That is exactly what West Chester University’s Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs has been doing for the past ten years. A student committee through the Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Program collects teddy bears and donates them to a variety of organizations that benefit children. This event has turned into not only a university activity, but also a countywide event with local churches, schools and Girl Scouts collecting bears. The Chester County commissioners even declared the whole month of November “Bear Month.”
This event started out with one student’s idea and grew into the huge event that it is today. A total of 16,821 bears have been donated in the past nine years and this year, the student committee is making a goal of 10,000 to make the total for all ten years 20,000 bears.
Children from all over the world, including Hurricane Katrina survivors have benefited from the Bear Fair. Everyone in that community was glad that the children who were ripped away from a normal childhood had a chance to become kids again. “Thank you for your thoughtfulness not only to the children but to us during the recovery of the storm,” said Chief of Police in Heradon, La Peter L. Dale.
Bears donated in past years have gone to organizations such as Camp Dreamcatcher, which is for children affected by HIV/AIDS, Ronald McDonald House, a program that “directly improves the health and well-being of children,” according to their Web site www.rmhc.com and Project Hope, an international organization working especially for children to develop solutions in the healthcare industry.
“Nothing hugs back like a bear.” Why not make a child’s day a little brighter with only a few dollars? Any type of new bear of at least six inches will be accepted until the end of November. There are drop-off sites around campus. In Sykes Student Union, bears can be dropped off in front of the information desk and some in residence buildings. For a more complete list of on-campus and off-campus drop-off sites check http://iws.wcupa.edu/bearfair.